Wearable devices are slowly but surely getting the much-needed attention of both consumers and manufacturers. Initially thought to be a mere tracker for fitness, it has evolved to include a magnitude of uses. The adoption is also heavily dependent on the use cases that each manufacturer present to the user.
In this Guide, our tech savvy NXT Guru presents the three main types of wearable available and how they’d suit your lifestyle activities.
What are Activity Trackers?
With the introduction of sports science for professional athletes there was a need to gather data, initially to chart an athlete’s improving fitness, so in a way you can regard the stopwatch as the granddaddy of activity trackers, but equipment such as pedometers and heart rate monitors have been around for decades to not only provide data but to provide athletes with the information they need for their training – for example calculating your heart rate zones and then providing you with the data so you’ll be able to maintain a steady Zone 3 to improve your fitness and endurance without overstressing.
The introduction of better electronics and battery technology enabled the development of platforms such as the MotionX system that combines small sensors with smartphone apps and Cloud infrastructure to provide a complete ecosystem. Now with a simple System on a Chip (SoC) that has a pedometer, accelerometer, Bluetooth module and processor you have your basic activity tracker.
What Can You Track?
With a few state-of-the-art sensors built into a wearable device, you can capture quite a lot of activity data. Models with accelerometer and gyroscope can capture stats for walking, running, swimming, cycling, doing sit-ups, or even sleeping. With a GPS, the wearable can detect distance and speed, a heart-rate monitor can measure your workout intensity, while an altimeter can measure if you are going up or down the slope or climbing the stairs, altogether improving the accuracy of calculating energy burn.
For golf, there are also specialised wearables containing golf courses maps, and sensors attached to your wrist or club.
With a smartphone app to make sense of the data, you will get insights into your activity that can improve your effectiveness by addressing the areas that delivers the best results.
The 24 Hour Activity Tracker
For whom: Anyone who wants to track their activities.
Main functions: Step counter (Pedometer), sleep tracker, calorie counter.
Pros: Light, small, and comfortable. Can be worn 24/7 for sleep tracking. Long battery life.
CONS: Most don’t come with heart rate monitoring or GPS.
BEST FOR: 24/7 health monitoring, basic fitness tracking, weight loss.
As we mentioned in the introduction to this feature, the fact that you can have all the basic features of an activity tracker on just one SoC means that you can simply add a small battery and embed the system into anything – from wristbands to watches. As you walk a basic activity monitor will record your movements and when synced to a smartphone will transfer its data to a companion fitness app. It’s these fitness apps like Runkeeper, MapMyFitness, Endomoto and Runtastic that actually process the raw data through Cloud integration into figures usable to you, such as the number of steps you took in a day, your basic caloric energy burnt and even your sleep cycle. Over time you can build a chart of your fitness to give you a better understanding of how you’re physically improving. For users who are just starting their fitness journey, there’s usually challenges to encourage you to build up your fitness – Fitbit for example have a new virtual challenge called Fitbit Adventures on their App that will let you walk a ‘virtual trail’ in a world-class location – the first of which is Yosemite National Park – when you hit the required steps you’ll unlock stunning vistas and mini-games.
You can also take part in the National Steps Challenge (stepschallenge.sg) to unlock points and contests that could win you business-class airline tickets.
The fashionable bangle-like Misfit Ray provides automatic activity tracking and sleep monitoring, is swimproof and can be programmed to control connected household devices. Power comes from a watch cell battery, which will last up to six months.
from S$122 misfit.com
The TomTom Touch takes a page out of Jawbone’s Up series and have added bioimpedance sensors to the Touch for body composition features. It also has optical heart-rate monitoring.
Fitbit Flex 2
The Flex 2 is an affordable entry-level tracker that’s composed of a small tracking device that fits into a range of straps and even pendants. It’s also fully waterproof so you can take it swimming.
The Multisports Watch
For whom: People who exercise regularly in multiple sports.
Main function: Heart rate monitor, GPS tracking of outdoor activities, multisport use.
Pros: Now with smartphone integration for notifications.
Con: Most are still more functional than fashionable, but that’s changing.
Best for: Daily 24/7 health monitoring, multisport fitness tracking, heart zone monitoring.
Getting and keeping fit is now a great trend in Singapore, but until a couple of years ago most fitness enthusiasts didn’t vary their workouts – we’d stick to one activity for the majority of our exercise. With a greater awareness of our physical limits and bodies we now understand that a varied workout routine not only enables us to fully exercise our muscle groups but also for better muscle recovery and better joint care. It is no coincidence that the triathlon has become a popular sports event with Singaporeans, as swimming, biking and running is often regarded as the three core endurance fitness activities and the latest fitness watches now come with both heart rate monitors and built-in GPS to track your runs, rides and swims.
Of course these fitness watches can track other workouts as well, such as trail running and rowing, plus they all provide all-day activity tracking as well as support external devices such as bicycle cadence sensors. The latest multi-sport watches such as the TomTom Spark and Samsung Fit2 even have internal storage and a music player so you can sync up to a Bluetooth earphones like the Bose SoundSports and go for a jog.
Tomtom Spark Cardio + Music
TomTom where the first to launch a multisport watch with integrated GPS, 24/7 optical heart rate monitoring and a music player feature, so you don’t need to run with your smartphone in your back pocket.
Fitbit Charge 2
The Charge 2 is basically an updated Charge HR with multisport functionality and an updated optical heart rate monitor. There’s also a colourful array of band colours that you can swap too.
From S$248 www.fitbit.com/sg
Looking for an affordable running watch with GPS, 24/7 activity tracking and heart-rate monitoring in a waterproof body? Then the Polar M200 is the perfect watch for you.
The Serious Training Watch
For whom: People who train for competitive sports including Ironman 70.3 and Ironman.
Main functions: Accurate data in multiple metrics such as running dynamics, integrated and programmable training features.
Pros: Now sleeker looking than previous generation.
Con: Expensive and frankly overkill for most people.
Best for: Leveling up your training to qualify for Ironman Kona.
For serious sports people, the intent of a tracking watch is to give insight to their workout performance. For that, the wearable device must capture accurate data using sensitive instruments like gyroscope, heart-rate monitor, altimeter, GPS. Every detected movement is converted into stats for analysis and self-improvement.
For serious runners, other than counting the steps, you would want to track cadence (steps per minute), speed (distance per minute), calories burnt, distance covered, heart rate and even ground contact time. For swimming, the wearable has to function in water and track your laps and strokes. It also has to sync to a waterproof heart rate chest strap for precise monitoring.
And behind these devices are apps that turn data into information which feeds back to the wearable. For instance, you could compare your performance against your previous workout sessions, or against your peers who are using the same fitness tracking app. Your personal data should also be used to generate an accurate workout plans such as brick training so you can not only improve your laps, but also transition times.
And needless to say, the watch has to be tough enough to take the knocks of competitive Ironman, withstand open-water swims and track your performance for up to 17 hours, which is the cut off time for an official Ironman event.
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Garmin has radically revamped its iconic Forerunner series with contemporary watch designs, but the Forerunner 735XT still excels in multisport tracking and training workouts.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT
The new Forerunner 920XT is a solid favourite with the triathlon and long distance running crowds thanks to its high-end training features, comprehensive tracking metrics and up to 24 hours of tracking in GPS mode.
Suunto Spartan Ultra Titanium
Built with a tough titanium/steel case and bezel and water resistant to 100m, Suunto’s Spartan Ultra can be programmed with up to 80 preset sports modes and can even provide GPS route guidance so you’ll never make a wrong turn in competition.